Illegal for a citizen to use a mayor’s domain name
Monday, October 2, 2017
A man living in Bodegraven-Reeuwijk had been at loggerheads with his municipality for years. For convenience, let’s call him Pete; we don’t know his real name. Pete was angry with, amongst others, the mayor of the Bodegraven-Reeuwijk municipality because of changes to a zoning plan. He registered the domain name burgemeesterchristiaanvanderkamp.nl and expressed his dissatisfaction on the website that he linked to it. The municipality wanted to stop Pete, but a demand sent to him had no effect. The municipality went to the courts because Pete kept using the domain name and refused to relinquish it. The preliminary relief judge for The Hague held that registering this domain name was not in itself unlawful. But associated circumstances meant that Pete’s activities in this case were unauthorised and therefore had to be stopped. According to the provisional relief judge, the municipality was denied the opportunity to provide information to the public via the website in question. The use also created the risk of confusion: visitors to the website would not find the information about the mayor and municipality that they expected, but instead merely the charges made against these parties. The provisional relief judge appreciated that neither the mayor nor the municipality wanted to be associated with this. The disclaimer placed on the website had to be clicked on separately, which, of course, many visitors would not do. The disclaimer was therefore not enough to mitigate the risk of confusion. Pete had to transfer the domain name to the municipality. This did not amount to any disproportionate restriction of freedom of expression for Pete: he registered another domain name, on which he could certainly vent his spleen. Sadly we can’t find out its domain name. But the remarkable thing here is the order for transfer of the domain name. Why not just ban its use?
Fleur Jeukens, student trainee
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